Kiwis win first real Cup race

 

Kiwis win first real America’s Cup race as Oracle adapts to rejected rule change

After a week of one-boat “races,” an argument over rules, and an angry sponsor making waves in international media, it would be easy to write off the America’s Cup as the lamest party in town (so lame, in fact, that the organizers have ceased broadcasting the one-boat shows on YouTube).

But, it was a week of wins for Emirates Team New Zealand, most obviously the solid drubbing they delivered to Luna Rossa on Saturday (7/13) during the first race at which two boats actually showed.

A smart “hook” by ETNZ blocked Luna Rossa from the start line and gave the Kiwis a five second advantage that stretched to over five minutes during the seven legs of the race. Unfortunately, that was the peak of the action as the gap between the boats grew so great and Luna Rossa officially earned a “did not finish” result for exceeding the five minutes allowed to cross the finish line after ETNZ. Overall, the match was almost as boring to watch as the single-boat snoozefests of earlier in the week, however it did show off the capabilities of the Kiwi crew, who are clearly mastering foiling while jibing, a key move for maintaining high speeds downwind.

Which brings us to the other big win for the New Zealanders this week. On Thursday, the international jury [1]ruled in favor of ETNZ and Luna Rossa, who protested a new rule requiring larger, symmetrical rudder elevators as a matter of safety. The jury decided that allowing the larger rudder elevators – which Oracle have been using on their boat since they relaunched in April after a pitch-pole in October destroyed their wing sail – would violate the AC72 Class Rule that governs the design specifications of the boats.

They said regatta director Iain Murray couldn’t change this rule without buy-in from all the competitors and that voluntary compliance of the other safety rules would appease the Coast Guard, which permitted the event based on the additional safety measures made after Andrew Simpson died.

The rudder elevators help stabilize the lightweight boats while foiling, or lifting off the surface of the water to hit speeds of over 40 knots – ETNZ saw 42.3 on the speedometer on Saturday while Luna Rossa maxed out at 39.9 knots. The crew that masters this move and can maintain it over the course of a race will likely come out ahead. ETNZ is doing it now and will likely get better and better at it over the coming weeks as they continue to race the course through the multiple round robins of the Louis Vuitton Cup.

Meanwhile, Oracle will have to return to the drawing board and Ellison’s crew will need to get out on the water and re-learn how to handle their boat with a new rudder that complies with the Class Rule.

Oracle has been tight-lipped on the subject, with just a brief statement from general manager Grant Simmer on the jury’s decision. “We continue to support the Regatta Director and we believe all teams have benefited from his review. We don’t have an issue complying with the Class Rule, and we will be ready to race under the rules affirmed by the Jury.”
However, they may have an issue playing catch-up to the Kiwis, who have a lot on the line. If they aren’t able to wrest the Auld Mug from Larry Ellison’s hands, it’s likely the New Zealand government won’t chip in for a future campaign – especially if high-tech, billion-dollar boats remain the name of the game.

The Kiwis have already chalked up four points and will need to win just one more of the next three bouts with Italy to advance to the Louis Vuitton Cup semifinals, during which the Swedish team, Artemis, should be back on the water. Spectators won’t see Oracle on the course until September 7, when the America’s Cup final matches commence, however there should be plenty of opportunities to observe their practice sessions with a newly rule-compliant boat.

To that end, it’s worth noting that situating the race close to land for the first time in the Cup’s history, and with a short course completed in multiple laps, was supposed to draw crowds to the shoreline and the television screen. Now that I’ve seen the boats live and on television, I have to admit that so far it’s still a pretty boring sport to watch. Standing near the start line at Marina Green or the finish line at Piers 27/29 may get you flashes of action and watching it on television is like watching a video game.

The best of both worlds is to park as near as possible to the water and get your hands on a portable marine VHF radio tuned to channel 20, which transmits the official America’s Cup broadcast. Then you can hear details on speed and tactics while actually seeing the most unforgettable part of this race – the boats jibing downwind, hitting freeway speeds while foiling with spray flying and crewmembers bouncing from one hull to the other.

That’s still drawing gasps and cheers from the crowd.

Originally published July 15, 2013 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian

Hi-tech in the tidal zone


On a recent Friday afternoon I donned the filthiest life jacket I’ve ever seen, stepped aboard a flat steel punt dusty with concrete, and went to a place few ever go – the cool, dark underworld beneath Queens Wharf.

Here, the water glows an eerie nuclear green and the sounds of constant foot traffic, swooping helicopters, and the Shed 5 lunch crowd seem a million miles away. It’s high tide and Derek Kleinjan and I duck our heads around ancient copper sewer pipes and enormous 100-year-old beams to see what he and his five-man crew have been up to for the past 18 months.

Kleinjan is foreman for GK Shaw, a Lower Hutt firm that builds marine infrastructure around the world, and they’re systematically reinforcing the rotted beams and piles of the aging wharf. About 270 new greenheart beams, each weighing half a ton, were floated one at a time and lifted overhead into place with jacks specially designed by Shaw (and hidden in storage from the eyes of competitors.)

More than 280 new concrete piles have been poured, with the assistance of two divers, and wrapped with sheets of Kevlar, which add strength and stability to the structure. They resemble the hi-tech carbon fibre sails seen on racing boats, and are a new method for this kind of large scale renovation.  Already, barnacles, muscles, and starfish are clinging to the Kevlar and the internal carbon fibres lend an ethereal light.

Kleinjan’s been down here off and on over the years – as have his two sons, who work for him occasionally. Twenty years ago he was part of the crew that replaced piles under Shed 5, which he shows me while diners stare down at us from the restaurant’s deck.

These piles are thicker and were poured around an internal metal frame, which isn’t required with the new Kevlar method.
“The trickier the better sometimes because it really makes you think,” says the foreman, who describes areas where the wooden beams, weighing half a ton apiece, had to be lifted overhead, delicately threaded between pipes and electrical cords.

Kleinjan and crew will be finished by June, when they’ll move on to repair the fendering on Taranaki Wharf. He tells me he loves the complexity and challenges of the work, even though it’s something he can’t really show off. “If you sucked all the water out of the sea nobody’d want to walk on a wharf,” he says as we glide back out into the light of day.

 

Originally published March 6, 2013 in Capital Times. 

 

Kids’ TV could be better


How much, when, and what to watch on the tele have been in parent-child negotiations since before Spot On hit the airwaves. The experts still say less is more, but the sheer ubiquity of televisions, computers, smart phones, tablets, game players, etc. and so on in the lounge, office, bedroom, classroom, back of the ute, and palm of one’s hand means, like it or not, your kid is getting more than you may be able to control.

Should Junior be snacking on a bag of crisps or a crispy native Braeburn? That’s the basic question posed by a group of New Zealanders who want to change what’s on the channel and are inviting the public to debate on children’s television.

The New Zealand Children’s Screen Trust officially launched this week and, in conjunction with Goethe Institut, celebrates Children’s Day with a seminar and forum entitled What Do Kids Want From TV? Dr Maya Götz, head of the International Central Institute for Youth and Educational Television, has been flown in from Germany to lecture and debate with New Zealand media luminaries, producer Yvonne Mackay of Production Shed and writer Martin Baynton of Pukeko Pictures.

“Content is really central,” Götz says, when asked if there’s such a thing as healthy television for children. She recommends no more than 30 minutes to an hour per day. “For all ages it should be a variety of fiction and nonfiction, of things that tell stories about the social and factual world, but also something that is based in their own culture, helping them to understand the concrete world around them.”

That’s precisely what’s lacking in New Zealand television, says Mackay, one of the founding members of the Children’s Screen Trust, which includes other producers, former children’s commissioners, and media researchers.  “About 15 to 20 years ago New Zealand TV was really famous for high quality family dramas. We made a lot of them and they were programmes that had an eight year old and an 80 year old together viewing them and discussing them. We’ve stopped making those programs.”

Mackay points to the success of Production Shed’s Kaitangata Twitch, a 13-episode family drama based on a Margaret Mahy book. It won several awards, rated higher than the news on Māori Television, and currently airs at a prime Saturday night spot.

“Once we made that programme we started to look around to make more like it,” recounts Mackay. “The main funder, NZ On Air, was not able to offer any more than $1million for any more high quality children’s dramas. You can’t make Kaitangata Twitch for $1million. It cost $6.2million.”

Götz says the lack of public broadcasting is a big issue. “For most countries this is the only way to ensure that someone seriously takes care of children’s media concerns,” she says. “Now you have to find other ways to make sure that New Zealand children can see themselves on television. You need programmes made in your country.” She lauds the founding of the Trust, but says more money should be devoted to creating programmes. In other countries launching a children’s channel not devoted to advertising was a “turning point for high quality children’s TV.”

As for specific recommendations to parents, she says kids start paying attention to screens at six months of age and clear rules need to be made early. Diverse programming and communicating about what kids are seeing are key. Furthermore, media studies should be part of the curriculum at an early stage, beginning with diaries of daily media use and “reflection on what is healthy and feels good and what does not.”

 

Originally published February 27, 2013 in Capital Times.

 

The wheel deal

I dodged a car door swinging toward while biking to work along Evans Bay Parade. A few metres later the meagre cycle lane I was riding disappeared. Why are Wellington’s cycle lanes so few, so narrow, and so disconnected? Has riding a bike around the capital got any better since Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, a cyclist, was elected? Amanda Witherell questions the state of cycling in Wellington on Go By Bike Day.

Jen Boyd recently purchased the first bicycle she’s ever owned. It’s a cruiser with a handlebar basket and a sturdy frame that’s a bit of a struggle to get up the hill to her Roseneath house, but she does it because she’s fallen in love with riding a bike.

“I’m doing 10 kilometres a day without even thinking about it, just going to and from work,” she says. “I get really moody now when I can’t ride.”

Boyd has discovered what a growing number of locals already know – biking is free, increases fitness and decreases pollution. For a city concerned about costs, it lessens traffic and doesn’t require billion dollar infrastructure. Cyclists say Wellington City Council isn’t keeping up with demand. No new cycle lanes, little signage, and not much planning for future growth.

“As far as commuting goes there haven’t been huge gains. Wellington is quite backwards compared to other major cities, ” says Jonathan Kennett, an avid cyclist and publisher of cycling guides. “It’s a bit of a shame to say that Auckland has streaked ahead of Wellington in the last 10 years.”

In the 2011 Wellington Resident Satisfaction Survey, four percent of people commute by bicycle. More telling is that 12 percent wish they were travelling by bicycle, but for various reasons, including lack of bike lanes and safety, they aren’t.

“There’s been this massive boom in cycling. It’s doubled since 2006, but council efforts haven’t kept pace,” says Patrick Morgan of Cycle Aware Wellington.

Instead of responding to the increase in riders, the city’s cycling policy, written in 2008, focuses on making it safer first with this cryptic statement: “Making cycling safer and more convenient is expected to increase its popularity. If successful, future plans will then be able to set targets for increasing cycling numbers.”

The number of cycling commuters has doubled in six years. They include Simon
Kennett, Jen Boyd, Jean Beetham and Terry Pinfold. 

Safety shouldn’t wait: the numbers are here and rising. Morgan says council is missing out on low cost opportunities that could make a big difference. He cites the Newtown intersection of John and Wakefield Streets, which were recently ripped up during the construction of the new Countdown Supermarket. “If you do it when you’re redesigning the intersection, it costs nothing.”

Instead, nothing changed. The intersection is in the heart of the Island Bay to CBD route, winner of the “Most Room for Improvement” category in Cycle Aware Network’s 2012 Roll On Awards. They noted: “these streets are easily wide enough to provide dedicated cycle lanes –but where are they?”

Wade-Brown, who didn’t learn to ride a bike until she was 12, now cycles daily from Island Bay to Council Chambers and agrees there’s room for improvement on that route.

“I think there are real possibilities for making some junctions safer,” she says.

Council listed it as one of three “Strategic Cycleways” for the city; another is the 67 km Great Harbour Way, however Tawa Stream Path is the one that got financial legs. The $4 million project officially opened in October 2012 and was funded by New Zealand Transport Authority and WCC kicked in matching money.

Councillor Andy Foster, cyclist and Transport portfolio leader, says they should have advanced two big infrastructure improvements at once.

“We probably made a mistake in going with that one and seeing it through,” he says. “The bulk of the money is going to
something 95 percent of cyclists in the city can’t see. It’s a good project, but for most people it’s out of sight and out of mind, but it’s difficult getting NZTA funding and we had to get it while we could.”

That should be happening more often, says Kennett. “The Great Harbour Way, why didn’t that happen years ago? It’s a no-brainer.”

“It’s political will at council level and NZTA level,” he says, adding that Auckland has been far more effective at netting big dollars for cycling. “Quite often these cycle paths happen because there are people in positions of power who are able to make good decisions when opportunities arise.”

The Great Harbour Way’s day in the sun may be coming. The government’s $1.25 billion National Land Transport programme for 2012-2015 includes money to improve the troublesome Ngauranga to Petone route. As with the Tawa Stream Path, it’s an opportunity to optimise funding and a green light on the project would be a feather in Wade-Brown’s bike helmet.

She calls it “the capital’s equivalent of the Otago Rail Trail,” and though it would be used for commuting and local recreation, it could be a boon for tourism.

The mayor conceded that most cycling improvements have been discreet, such as reduced speed limits on some roads, cycle-friendly storm grates, and a clearway on Thorndon Quay during peak morning traffic. And there have been issues: she wanted bike stencils in the bus lanes, which cyclists are permitted to use, but NZTA changed the rules for marking roads, holding up council’s plans.

When pushed to identify some goals she wished she’d achieved by now, Wade-Brown was vague. “We are making progress, but it’s not as fast as I would have liked,” she says. “I wish we’d fixed the gap between Petone and Ngauranga, but it’s better to do a good job than a dangerous job.”

Wade-Brown points out to critics that council preserved cycling’s sliver of cash, which officers cut from the Draft Long Term Plan.

Council voted 15-0 to restore $1.3 million over the next three years. More recently, officers have been instructed to consult on the Island Bay route, as well as what to do with the narrow road between Owhiro Bay and Lyall Bay. “Councillors are behind cycling improvements,” she says.

If more people are riding, then more money should be set aside to accommodate them, counters Patrick Morgan.

“When you start to get four to five percent of the population riding, you want to see the budget matching. I’d like to see a jump from $1 million to $5 million next year. That would be nothing in the context of transport projects and huge in the context of cycling,” he said.

Foster thinks Wellington could be more cycle-friendly within the next decade, with more cycle lanes and amenities. “I’d like to see a cycle centre where you can bring your bike, where there’s a shop for repairs, where you could have a coffee and a shower. I’ve talked to the waterfront company about the possibility for the centre as a ground floor tenant. In the right location it would be, I hope, very popular.”

Not only would a cycling centre provide a unique public space, it would serve to cement cycling into Wellington’s culture and economy.

“More cycle lanes, cycle paths, a bit more cycle parking, a continuing shift in driving culture” are all things Simon Kennett, Jonathan’s brother and fellow cyclist, would like to see, and were echoed by the many cyclists we interviewed.

“There are certain political realities. Putting in cycle lanes isn’t that expensive, but it often requires removing car parking. Businesses adjacent to the route feel they have a lot at stake,” says Kennett.

Perhaps the potential benefits should be discussed. When New York City recently removed car parks to install a protected bike lane, small businesses discovered that it resulted in a sharp increase in sales. Cyclists weren’t buying as much as drivers, but they were buying more often and more overall.

Protected cycle lanes seem a long way off for Wellington, but if council is concerned about safety they could look to a recent Christchurch study by University of Canterbury students. “We found there’s an average of 23 percent fewer crashes after cycling lanes are installed,” says Glen Koorey, transportation engineering lecturer. “That’s definitely telling us that if we do them right there can be safety advantages.” The study also trialled low-cost roading options to create protected lanes, which would probably field test well on Evans Bay Parade.

Meanwhile, there are other options for that 12 percent or more of people who want to be riding but aren’t.

“In the absence of infrastructural change it’s working with what you have. Skills,” says Marilyn Northcotte, who teaches road skills to kids and adults through Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Pedal Ready programme. She’s been riding Wellington for years and says there are definitely more people on bikes. “A telling situation for me is that new cyclists may be wary or somewhat worried and anxious, but they still do it. It doesn’t stop them.”

It didn’t stop Boyd, who says she’d like to see more cycle lanes, but not having them shouldn’t stop you in your tracks. “I’d say to anyone who’s thinking about doing it, just go for it.”

 

Originally published February 13, 2013 in Capital Times. 

These farms deliver

Evil Genius record store in Berhampore is an unlikely place to get a box of vegetables, but that’s where some Wellington residents go for theirs every Thursday. They’re not perusing the vinyl looking for victuals, though – they’re subscribers to Wairarapa Eco Farms’ Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme. The concept is simple, but the ramifications for preserving agriculture in the Wellington region are immense, as Amanda Witherell learns.

Here’s how it works: sign up for as little as a month or as long as a year and every week you receive a bag of freshly harvested organic produce – what’s in that bag is up to the farmers, the season, and the vagaries of the harvest and the weather, but it’s guaranteed to be fresh, diverse, and local.

It’s delivered to Evil Genius, Mt Vic, and Aro Valley, from Masterton where, 16 years ago, Josje Neerincx and her partner Frank van Steensel moved from their native Netherlands to eight hectares of tired, grassed-over land. They planted groves of olive trees, cultivated organic seedlings and plants in a greenhouse, and tended a garden chocked with herbs and vegetables, while raising four children and building their straw bale solar and wind powered house. In 2009, they purchased another 12 acre abandoned commercial orchard and began the long process of bringing it back into production, without the use of chemicals. They first pursued a CSA model a few years ago, but that attempt – the first for New Zealand –failed. Now, they’re at it again and hoping to attract more food-conscious locals to their special offering.

The CSA model is new to this country, but was first proposed in 1985 by American farmer Robyn Van En, who put the concept into action on her Massachusetts farm. Wilson College’s Robyn Van En Center now lists 1,650 CSA American farms in its growing database. For many small, family farms it’s become a better business plan because it guarantees that whatever is harvested will be consumed, removing the unpredictability of selling at farmers markets and the search for wholesale distribution.

“Because New Zealand is small, the organic industry is small. If one grower decides to grow a lot of broccoli he can flood the market,” says Neerincx. “That’s why we decided to go with a CSA. There’s another organic grower in Masterton who increased his acreage growing a lot of peas and now he has to sell them on the conventional market.”

If they sell at all. In a CSA model, knowing exactly how many people they’re feeding that season means they can tailor what they till.

“We need a committed group of people who have subscriptions and buy from us on a weekly basis. We’re almost there, to the point of having enough customers,” says Neerincx, but she is surprised that Wellington residents, who espouse environmental principles, aren’t clamouring for more local, organic food. “In the last election 25 percent of Wellington voted for the Green Party. Where are they?” she asks as we sit at the picnic table on her lawn beside their straw bale home, spring sunshine beating down. Van Steensel is at the orchard, fretting over what they hope will be a bumper cherry crop – enough to cover air fares back to Holland for the first time in years.

“The cherries will make or break it,” says Neerincx, her eyes in an almost permanent squint against the sun, her fair cheeks red from long days outdoors. Nearby, chickens scratch beneath the olive trees, a cat curls asleep in the sandbox and the family dog laps from the kids’ swimming pool. The sound of bird song and the smell of fresh, verdant growth are overwhelming and a welcomed break from city life.

Farm Days, when subscribers are invited to visit with Neerincx, van Steensel, and the fields and trees that bear their food, are another aspect of CSA culture.

“It’s educating city folks like me,” says Vanessa Moon, a CSA subscriber who lives in Miramar and has been involved “boots and all” since the beginning. “I’m into it for the veges and the bigger picture stuff as well. I really passionately do believe it’s the way forward, along with urban agriculture. They’re incredibly knowledgeable people and that knowledge is being lost. We need these people who know how to actually work with nature and the soil to secure our food supply because at the moment it’s incredibly vulnerable to climate change and other things.”

And it’s disappearing. Thirty years ago most fresh food that hit Wellington’s plates was coming from within the region, but in a 2008 food security study conducted by Neerincx, van Steensel, and Laura Beck for Wellington City Council, they found that 81% of Wellington’s fresh produce now comes from outside the region (they drew the boundary at Waikanae across to Upper Hutt and down to the Cook Strait). As recently as the 1990s there were 172 farms in the region; now there are about 35 and dropping.

“They get more money subdividing and selling their land for housing instead of growing so a lot of land has been taken out of production,” says Neerincx of her Wairarapa neighbours. “Now, there’s one big grower here. The best land is being used for building houses.”

The decline in farms is paralleled by a rise in supermarkets’ control of the market and their demand for large volume suppliers. A change in regulations, which disallowed the road transport of produce farther than 50km, also affected the market, making any grower in the nation a potential source for fruits and vegetables.

“It used to be that growers were in close contact with supermarkets, but supermarkets here changed the way people in business do their purchasing,” says Neerincx, who does some direct wholesale, supplying produce to Ti Kouka Café on Willis Street and olive oil to Bongusto in Miramar.

“Most of the fresh food in Wellington is coming from quite far away. Often it travels back and forth in the country before it comes to you,” says Neerincx. That includes the weekend markets at Newtown and Harbourside, she says, which are mostly selling produce from a few large suppliers, sourced from all over the country and, sometimes, overseas. Neerincx tried selling cherries at Harbourside but has had better success at Hill Street Farmers Market, where they’ve maintained a stall since it began almost three years ago. While market sales can be unpredictable, it gives them street exposure and builds relationships.

“We can introduce people to the CSA and because we grow items they can’t find in supermarkets, like chicory, kohlrabi, and endive, we get Italians, Mexicans, and others from overseas who know we grow things from back home,” she says, adding that she gets lots of great recipes in exchange.

While city dwellers like Moon laud the benefits of having a relationship with food and the place it comes from, Neerincx says it’s reciprocal. “We really like that relationship, going to the market and getting emails from our customers. It wouldn’t be fun going to the fields all the time and just growing for wholesale,” she says. “You care about what they get in their bags.”

Moon points out that other box schemes exist in Wellington, such as Urban Harvest. However, while their website features photos of the suppliers, mostly from Hawke’s Bay south and including Wairarapa Eco Farms, it’s essentially an online grocery store without a strict adherence to principles like seasonal eating, organic production, and buying local – it’s possible to put fair trade bananas shipped through an Auckland middleman in your electronic shopping bag.

“There’s not the relationship with the farmer. You just order what you want,” says Moon, who calls herself a control freak and admits at first she had difficulties accommodating her CSA bag of veges into her preconceived ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “You learn to be creative and in reality it’s like having your own garden.”

Asked what she’d received the week we spoke she struggled to recall. “Most of it’s been eaten already!”

If the season goes well in Masterton, she’ll be munching on cherries soon.

Originally published January 9, 2012 in Capital Times. 

Dig this summit

Mat Wright, owner of Floyd’s Café and sponsor of the Digger’s Summit, banks a curve while digger Russel Garlick looks on with pride. 

 

The physical act of sculpting a mountain bike trail out of a Wellington hillside gives Russel Garlick a sense of gratification he doesn’t always get at his day job.

“When you work in I.T. you can change things really quick on the web. On a trail it takes a lot of effort and when you’re finished you can step back and see how it’s done. I think some of the trails we build are really beautiful,” says Garlick, who’s also secretary of the Wellington Mountain Bike club and co-organiser of the first ever Digger’s Summit.

Most walkers, runners, and bikers of Wellington probably don’t realise that the bulk of the paths, trails, and tracks are created and kept in good condition by volunteers, loosely formed into 12 groups around the region, but coming together for the first time at the summit.

Earlier gatherings have usually been at a pub over a couple of pints, so the summit is bringing in speakers from other areas to discuss techniques and issues, from how to mitigate mud to interfacing with territorial authorities and making friends with the neighbours. Those neighbours are also invited, as are representatives from Wellington City Council, which often provides materials for the maintenance and construction of trails.

Ben Wilde, another summit organiser and member of the Wellington Trails Alliance, runs the Miramar Track Project and says when Councils partner with volunteers it saves money and gets more trails built. “In Miramar, we looked at doing some gravelling, getting it, putting it in place. With commercial rates it would cost $10,000. We did most of the job in most of a day for $2,000,” he says, with a handful of volunteers and a couple of Council employees.

“There’s an assumption in some quarters that I pay my rates therefore I should get all this stuff,” he adds. “It happens with rugby clubs and soccer clubs, but with mountain biking we’re a younger sport and we have to build our own facilities. You don’t see rugby teams out there mowing the fields.”

It also gives people that sense of pride Garlick mentioned, as well as stewardship for the land.

“For every metre of trail we build we put in a native plant,” says Wilde. “We’ve planted about 2,500 plants in Miramar over the last four years.”

Summit speakers include international trail builder Jeff Carter, Council’s Parks and Gardens projects manager David Halliday, avid cyclist and author Simon Kennett, sustainable trail building advocate Ric Balfour, and Laurence Mote, who played a key role in securing mountain bike access on the Heaphy Track. The gab will be balanced with a hands-on look at one local project, a group ride, and a “Ball” at Southern Cross.

Garlick says he’s relatively new to trail building and that was a driving inspiration for the summit. “There’s much to be learned from sharing knowledge. I know there are a lot of guys who have been doing it for years. I wanted to meet them and have a chance to chat and go over different styles of building. I’m hoping we can help each other.”

Originally published November 21, 2012 in Capital Times. 

Tonnes of treasure trapped in trash

Last Sunday, Wellington officially switched from analogue to digital broadcasting. While it doesn’t render old cathode ray televisions entirely obsolete, most viewers dealt with the change by purchasing new televisions, which means a lot of sets gathering dust in the garage or taken to the dump. Amanda Witherell looks at what happens if you do the right thing and e-cycle it.

E-waste is loosely defined as ‘anything with a plug’ and it’s the fastest growing waste stream in the world. Most of New Zealand’s discarded televisions, computers, mobile phones, stereos, printers, fax machines – about 80,000 tonnes annually – ends up in landfills.

“By putting stuff like this into landfills we’re throwing away valuable resources. We’re also putting some of the most toxic substances into our landfills,” says Wanaka Wastebusters’ Tania Pilkinton. Only about 20 percent is discarded properly – broken down into separate components and recycled.

The government doesn’t classify e-waste a priority hazardous product, so there are no restrictions on where it ends up, merely suggestions from groups like Wanaka Wastebusters, eDay New Zealand Trust, Mana’s Trash Palace, and Sustainability Trust, which collects e-waste at their Tory Street location and take it to RCN Recycling.

RCN is located deep in the industrial heart of Seaview. It recently moved – its third location, each one ever larger, since Gary Fox started managing the place in March 2011. It’s already filled floor to ceiling with shrink wrapped pallets of electronics, waiting to be dismantled by Fox and his crew of four. Shelves are lined with large hand-labeled cardboard boxes: heavy grade copper, motherboards, back plane boards – the innards of your everyday objects. Cathode tubes line the floor in regimental rows.

A mountain of plastic cases – former TVs and computer screens – shadows the sun from an open door. Fox says that’s just two weeks of work. Every year, six 40-foot containers are filled with Wellington’s e-waste.

“It’s a growth industry,” Fox sums up, chatting while he disassembles a TV. First, he cracks the plastic case off the metal frame to expose the tube. To separate the tube from the screen, which actually has two pieces of glass – a back and a front – it’s put into a “screen splitter.”  The clear plastic hood looks like something you’d see in a science lab. Locked inside, the TV is injected with a current so hot it hums and pops as it breaks apart. Wearing a full hazardous suit, face mask, and Kevlar gloves, Fox vacuums phosphorous off the inside of the TV screen and into a metal drum, which will eventually go to a chemical recycler. In 15 months, it’s only about 10 centimetres deep. “By the time it’s full I could be in the old folks home,” he jokes.

“Once the phosphorus is removed, it’s just plain glass,” he adds, tossing it into a box full of thick, dark chunks. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.

Glass is one of the few parts recycled in New Zealand – at the moment, into insulation, but it’s being trialled for road aggregate. The TV’s back glass, which is about 25 percent lead, goes to Australia where it’s cleaned and shipped on to Malaysia to become medical material. The metal frame, copper coil, and nickel electron gun goes to scrap metal dealers in Lower Hutt. Cabling heads to a smelter in Auckland.

But that’s about it. New Zealand is too small to justify much recycling in-country. RCN ships the rest overseas to ISO 14000-approved facilities that adhere to global environmental standards. Circuit boards teeming with precious metals are deconstructed in Japan. Plastic full of flame retardants goes to China where it’s graded, melted, and reformed into fence posts, clock radios, DVD-players – the next generation of electronic goods.

“It’s the actual converting of products back to raw material,” says Jon Thornhill, RCN’s general manager of e-cycling. In the past few years the company has grown from a handful of locations to over 50 sites.

RCN charges $20 per TV, though other things like laptops, mobile phones, and office servers are free. The Ministry for the Environment has been promoting the TV TakeBake programme and gave $1million from the Waste Minimisation Fund to promote e-cycling and expand facilities like RCN by covering the dismantling and administration costs. However, RCN, Sustainability Trust, Trash Palace, and most other drop-off centres charge a fee.

That deters them from doing the right thing, argues eDay Trust’s Laurence Zwimpfer. From 2006, the Trust ran one-day annual events, however, that collection mode ceased in 2010 in favour of government-funded decentralised, year-round facilities like RCN.

Zwimpfer says both should still be happening. “In 2010 we had over 60 sites for one day, penetrating into the smaller centres where there’s low density population that doesn’t justify having a full-time collection centre. By having a public access point that’s free for the day, people come by the thousands.”

He also thinks New Zealand should adopt product stewardship schemes, similar to international programmes, where the cost is folded into the initial price of a TV or laptop and then electronics producers are responsible for collecting and recycling it.
Green MP Russel Norman says the Waste Minimisation Act of 2008 has helped. “There’s a levy on stuff going to landfills and that’s provided the funding to set up the e-cycling. The waste bill also provides a framework for product stewardship.” However, he adds, “National hasn’t wanted to use that capacity.”

The government’s most recent environmental policy paper, “Building A Blue Green Future,” says it will “explore the adoption of a product stewardship scheme.”

“Why don’t we just get on with it?” asks Zwimpfer. “There’s enough evidence coming from New Zealand and around the world that voluntary schemes don’t work. I saw it in Newtown the other day,” he adds. “A smashed TV on the road and the copper coil ripped out. It turns us back into a third world country.”

Originally published September 26, 2012 in Capital Times. 

Ride the storm

From left: Ania Upstill, Russell Silverwood, Rosie Rowe, and Stephanie Cairns are part of the crew that keeps Mechanical Tempest rolling.From left: Ania Upstill, Russell Silverwood, Rosie Rowe, and Stephanie Cairns are part of the crew that keeps Mechanical Tempest rolling.

Russell Silverwood needed to fix his bike. “When I first heard about Mechanical Tempest, it was like an urban myth. It was this magical place with all these bike parts,” he tells Amanda Witherell. Turns out the myth was true and more – benches and bike stands to make tuning easy, essential tools like pedal wrenches and tyre irons, all styles of handlebars, forks, frames, wheel sets, brake cables, tyres, tubes. Even entire bikes are up for grabs at the little ground floor shop that’s helping to make Wellington a community of bikers. 

Many months later, Silverwood is now one of at least a dozen volunteer mechanics who take turns tending Mechanical Tempest, a combination do-it-yourself bike shop and community space on the ground floor of 128 Abel Smith Street. Festooned in banners and murals at the edge of the motorway, the old, beige Victorian house has a long reputation as a home base for radicals.

But, it’s also home to a community garden, Revolting Books anarchist library, a women’s safe space, a new organic food co-op, and the bike shop, which pays the most rent, occupies the most space, and operates entirely on koha. The shop opened in 2003 and slowly grew into a variably-organised, overstuffed jumble of donated bicycles and parts, but in the past year a dedicated core of volunteers has emerged and transformed it to a more usable place with twice the workspace, regular hours and regular activities – like the Wenches with Wrenches women’s repair classes on Tuesdays and the twice monthly working bees to keep the place tidy and functional.

One Sunday afternoon working bee has bluesy riffs murmuring from a boom box on the floor. Silverwood is sorting drawers in a file cabinet where kilos of metal bicycle parts have replaced paper folders, while Stephanie Cairns sweeps out the dark corners behind the work benches. Ania Upstill expertly strips tyres off donated wheels and hangs them by size and style from hooks on the wall. Rosie Rowe uncovers a sign amongst years of accumulated bicycle bits: it reads ‘skill is appreciated but not necessary.’
“It’s very much a do-it-yourself thing. You can’t bring a bike in here and expect a mechanic to fix it. You have to bring your own energy to it,” explains Cairns. Open to the public every weekday evening, experienced mechanics are there to help, though more often than not other attendees are just as quick to teach newbies new tricks.

“When I started doing stuff here I didn’t know much, but I learned so much helping people. There are no experts,” says Cairns, who’s now one of the Wenches with Wrenches.

So is Rowe. She relocated here from Portland, Oregon, and says Mechanical Tempest reminds her of home, where she was involved with a similar women’s workshop. “It had a large following and a real riot grrl vibe, but in Wellington it feels so good to have this workshop because women seem way more timid and not the type to elbow their way to the front of the class.”

Cairns says they deliberately try to provide an atmosphere different from walking into a commercial bike shop. “They tend to be very male-dominated and focused on sports. We’re trying to get away from bicycling being seen as a sport and more like a form of green transportation. It makes it seem expensive and unreachable, like you have to look a certain way.”

“And it plays into capitalism,” pipes up Rowe.

“Bikes are really easy to work on and the industry has done a good job making it look expensive and complicated,” says Cairns, who’s finished cleaning and is now adjusting the brakes on her blue-framed granny bike. “A big part of the ethos is to enable people to work on their own bikes if they don’t have a lot of money.”

However, adds Rowe, you’d be surprised by the clientele. “It’s not what you’d expect, which is what we want. We don’t want cyclists to be marginalized. We are professionals, doctors, lawyers, filmmakers.”

Though based in a building that describes itself as a radical social centre, the shop doesn’t formally get involved in cycling advocacy or actions. The most revolutionary acts at Mechanical Tempest are learning how to true your wheels and spin a wrench. If riding a bike is an act of independence, then fixing that bike takes it one step further.

“It’s about people taking control of their own transport.”

Originally published September 19, 2012 in Capital Times

Profiles of change

Profiles of change

SFBG Inauguration Issue: President Obama’s call for citizen action is already resonating

By Amanda Witherell

 

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America,” President Barack Obama told US citizens on his Inauguration Day. “For everywhere we look, there is work to be done.”

He’s not just cheering himself on — he’s asking his constituents to embrace what’s to come and to consider what more we can be as the individual moving parts of this incredibly complex country.

Even as far back as the Democratic National Convention, Obama turned his campaign slogan into a call to action. “All across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don’t understand is this isn’t about me — it’s about you.”

That rang in the ears of people profiled below, who changed their lives in response to his call. That inspired other changes, suggesting that the effort to elect Obama is having a spillover effect on organizing at other levels — which may become a part of how US citizens respond to his actions in office.

Expectations are high for the changes he will order and already there’s indications of what’s to come, such as the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, the end of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality, and a commitment to action on climate change.

Many are eager to see more fundamental change in areas such as war, jobs, housing, energy, and transportation — areas we explore in this issue — as well as greater engagement between the White House and the grassroots groups that helped elect Obama.

In the profiles and stories that follow, the Guardian asks questions about what and who will change and how to move past a pithy slogan to trigger the transformation this country desperately needs.

————

MARIA GOMES

Maria Gomes was committed to Obama from the beginning. “I signed up right after he announced,” said this Menlo Park resident, who joined Silicon Valley for Obama and volunteered on the campaign.

Her first big assignment was in Iowa, where she spent 10 days campaigning before the caucus along with her husband and two teenage children. For Gomes, Obama’s Iowa win was a particularly powerful and pivotal moment. “I just realized the power of the volunteers and how awesome it was,” she said. “It was clear to me after Iowa that he was going to win, so I just dove in.”

Gomes, a 60-year-old lawyer, took an eight-month unpaid leave from her work as an immigration and dependency attorney for San Mateo County to devote herself fulltime to Obama’s campaign. It was the first time she devoted her life to get a politician elected.

“In fact, I [had] steered away from politics because I don’t really like politics,” she said. “This was different. I really strongly felt the people carried this campaign. I canvassed with CEOs, doctors, young people … nobody took a back seat in this campaign. We did not take it lightly.”

She and her husband served as precinct captains in California. After the primary, she coordinated volunteers and voter registration efforts for the general election. Gomes traveled to seven states in the months leading up to Nov. 4, spending Election Day working on voter protection in Las Vegas.

“I felt that the only way he was going to get elected was if people got in there. It wasn’t just going to happen,” said Gomes, an immigrant from Cabo Verde, off the western coast of Africa.

And it’s not over for Gomes. Her whole family went to Washington DC for the inauguration, where she answered Michelle Obama’s call to volunteer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Gomes has also signed up to work on Kamala Harris’ run for attorney general and she’s still active with her fellow workers at Silicon Valley for Obama.

“About a week after the election I went to a meeting for our field office. Five hundred people were there. We brainstormed how to stay involved in his campaign,” she said. They ranked issues they’d like to see addressed by Obama and organized themselves into teams to work on messaging them to the new administration. “We received a survey from the national team…. The [Silicon Valley] team took the national survey and made it local, community by community. That’s the kind of movement that’s happening now. I’m sure it’s going on everywhere because the campaign wanted every state and every county involved.” Her husband is now on the tech team and she’s doing fundraising work for the inauguration.

“It’s not over. Nothing has stopped,” she said, adding that she believed this kind of organizing would be very present in the administration. “It’s going to be governed by the people. I plan to be involved for the next four years at whatever level I can. I still write e-mails to whoever I think can change something. I hope it will be transparent enough that we can still communicate to people higher up in the administration — all the way to Barack and Michelle Obama.”

———-

 

AARON KNAPP

Aaron Knapp graduated from law school in 2002 and spent the subsequent six years working for big corporate law firms. By 2008, he began to feel that all of the major decisions in his life had been made based on money and materialism, an certain emptiness that changed suddenly at summer’s end.

“Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was a real turning point for me,” he recalled. “The change that I needed in my life was to join in this campaign that transcended the individuals.”

He said he did what he always wanted to do: “I quit a job I don’t enjoy.” Knapp went to work instead on the Obama campaign, spending about four months in Nevada. Putting Obama in office became too important to not give it his all: “I just wanted to make sure on November 4, I could say to myself I did everything I could.”

On election night, with the feeling of victory rushing through him, there was also a kind of malaise, a feeling of “now what?”

“Our roles in the campaign were predetermined — there are a finite amount of things you do in a campaign. Make phone calls, gather data, knock on doors…. After the election, after we won…. What do we do now? Those predetermined roles are no longer set up for us,” he said.

Knapp said it required some soul searching to find the next important thing to do: “The task is to get real specific.”

He’s now writing a book and working to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed by Congress. The act would amend existing labor laws to make it easier for workers to create unions that are recognized by employers. In 2007, it passed in the House and failed in the Senate, but it was part of Obama’s platform during the primary season, and one of the reasons he garnered support from organized labor.

But, said Knapp, “It’s one of those things that’s being put on the back burner as we transition in this administration…. While Obama was championing this cause during the campaign, there’s no sign of it now.”

The waning of enthusiasm for it is indicative of how Obama’s administration may start to handle some of those crucial campaign promises that drew so many people into his fold. That piqued Knapp’s interest and reminded him of the goals of his grandfather, an auto worker for Chevrolet during the 1940s, who passed away during Knapp’s first year of law school: “My grandfather always would plead with me to do whatever I could to get the labor laws back in order. So that’s an issue that’s really important to me.”

Knapp also said that it’s important to keep the grassroots Obama movement alive by continuing to push crucial legislation that was part of his platform for change.

“It goes right to the controversial pieces of law and policy that he’s addressing,” Knapp said. “If he’s able to keep this mobilization together, that will help him significantly in getting policies through.”

———–

PAULI OJEA

Pauli Ojea, who’s about to turn 30 years old, says that she’s spent her entire adult life “voting for the loser” and advocating for change that’s been slow to happen.

A New Jersey native, Ojea came to California to work for the San Francisco Conservation Corps on environmental education programs. That lead to a position with Breast Cancer Action as a community organizer, where she found that hopeful efforts were often frustrated by political pitfalls.

Then, Ojea attended a 2004 event where she heard Van Jones speak about how a new green wave was coming and it needed to lift all boats. When a position opened with Jones’ new organization, Green for All, she applied to be a policy analyst for the Oakland-based green-jobs advocacy group.

In between the two jobs, she spent a week campaigning for Obama with her mother, a Spanish immigrant who groused that if he lost, she’d be spending more time back in Spain.

Ojea now works on federal green-jobs policy and climate change equity, and has already been deeply affected by the Obama election. “For most of my career in advocacy, there’s been this sense that we probably don’t want to work on federal policy because we’re not going to get anywhere,” she explained. “I started at Green For All with Barack Obama elected as president and we’re actually putting a lot of resources into federal policy, and there’s this whole feeling like we’re going to get somewhere. That’s shifted for me. I imagine that for a lot of other environmental and social justice advocates, there seems to be a door opening.”

She’s even more enthused after meeting with members of the Obama transition team who were tasked with a review of the Department of Energy. About 30 to 40 people, representing organizations including the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council as well as renewable energy business leaders and public officials doing energy work in different states, convened in Washington DC to discuss energy policy.

“I’ve been to a lot of public agency meetings and what usually happens is you have maybe an hour and a half of presentation from the agency and maybe a half hour for all the organizations and people trying to get in their piece,” she said. “This was different. It was about a two-hour meeting and the whole time it was dedicated to hearing from the community, from businesses, from people with experience in energy efficiency. The transition team members were fully engaged, actually listening, asking questions, asking for clarifications if they didn’t understand something. They were really humble and they seemed really excited about what kinds of changes were possible. I’d never been part of a process like that.”

Ojea sees more potential than ever for the activist community in the Obama administration. “It could provide more opportunity and open more doors for what your activism is about. There’s such a difference between being used to being on the outside of the fence, behind the barricade, screaming because it’s the only way to be heard. Is that going to change? Are we going to be inside the fence?”

She recalled Obama’s campaign observation that “change doesn’t come from Washington, change comes to Washington.” She’s hoping the Obama team’s outreach will continue.

“We’re at a really strange and critical time,” Ojea said. “As Van says, in America, in terms of the economy, the floor has dropped out from under us. But with the election of Obama, the ceiling has come off. There’s a lot of opportunity, and things could also go downhill. What are we going to do?”

Originally published January 21, 2009 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian

Waning wildlife

Waning wildlife

Bay Area wildlife is already being negatively affected by a warmer world

By Amanda Witherell

Changes to ocean and air temperatures, rising sea levels, loss of habitat, scarcity of food, altered precipitation patterns, environmental asynchronicity — these are the concerns of wildlife biologists who are watching the increased effects of climate change on the thousands of plant and animal species that share the earth with people. Overall, global warming threatens a third of existing species, with 50 percent now in general decline due to a variety of human activities.

Bay Area wildlife is already being negatively affected by a warmer world, one that locally manifests in nesting birds roasting to death during heat waves, plummeting fish populations, and starving whales. Those stories were part of “Irreplaceable: Wildlife in a warming world,” a recent seminar held at the San Francisco Public Library by the Endangered Species Coalition. Maria Brown, superintendent of Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary — one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, shared a grim account of the Cassin’s auklet.

“This little seabird you maybe never heard of may predict the future of climate change in San Francisco,” said Brown.

The auklet spends most of its life far out at sea, and flies inland to breed in burrows on remote islands and coastlines. Invasive grasses have choked many of the prime burrowing spots along the coast, so wildlife biologists have installed bird boxes as an alternative. April, the height of the annual nesting season, was an unusually warm month, with thermometers on the Farallones Islands clocking 90-degree temperatures. The bird boxes turned into ovens. “They literally cooked,” said Brown of the breeding auklets. “This is a prediction of what’s to come.”

The auklet’s story also shows how species have already been negatively impacted by human activity, even before dramatic climate change was factored into the equation. That’s a point all the speakers drove home.

“We’re dealing with these threats that already exist. Now with climate change we superimpose all these unknowns,” said Tamara Williams, a hydrologist for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a 60-mile swath of incredibly diverse land spanning from Tomales Bay to San Mateo that is home to 34 threatened or endangered species — more than any other national park in continental North America. “Those listed species were listed without considering impacts of climate change. We’re dealing with species that were in trouble already.”

And how will it affect other species that aren’t listed? Williams gave an example of the coast redwood, which relies on a foggy environment to stave off drought during summer months. Will the coast continue to be as foggy as it’s been in the past? “We wish we could predict what’s going to happen, but we can’t,” she said.

Mike Lynes of Golden Gate Audubon said the Bay Area has global significance for birds, but there’s already been a 90 percent loss of its historic wetlands — one of the primary habitats for shorebirds, which are already in a 50 percent decline. Climate change is only going to make the world harder for them, he said as he flashed maps of altered land masses in the event of a one-meter sea level rise — the modest prediction for what will happen by 2100. The maps showed that such a rise will cause wetlands in Richmond, along the Petaluma River, and in Silicon Valley to disappear. Lynes pointed out that the reconfigured coast doesn’t allow room for new wetlands — the coastlines will butt up against already heavily developed urban enclaves for people.

But, he said, expanding and preserving wetlands would benefit birds and humans — wetlands mitigate flooding and are a high-quality CO2 trap.

Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, didn’t sound optimistic about preserving one critical wetland — the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta — when he spoke about the collapsed Pacific salmon population.

“We know pretty much what the problems are for the Central Valley salmon. It doesn’t take a blue-ribbon panel like the governor would like to appoint,” he said. “We’ve affected most all of its lifestyle, its lifecycle, by blocking off the places where these salmon spawn,” rattling off the names of dams and rivers — Shasta, Bryant, American, Feather — that are no longer easily passable for fish returning to lay eggs where they were born.

On top of that, eggs that are successfully laid hatch into fish that then migrate downstream where they encounter the delta, an “estuary beginning to die.” There, agricultural runoff, limited freshwater, and powerful pumps all threaten fish survival.

The few salmon that make it out to sea are faced with altered currents, fewer cool water upwellings, lower quantities of food, and literal dead zones where pollution has obliterated the natural diversity of the water.

“We know what has to be done to fix it. What has been done? Absolutely nothing. Now comes global warming. How well are we going to respond now that we have global warming?” asked Grader. “This year there was no fishing for the first time since 1848,” bringing the issue back to the basic human need for food, as well.

He urged people to start demanding more from elected leaders, including a stronger Endangered Species Act with a well-funded mandate, and to begin “raising a much higher bar if we expect to have salmon on the planet, humans on the planet, in the future.”

At the start of the evening’s presentation, Representative Nancy Pelosi’s aide, Melanie Nutter, delivered a short message from the Speaker of the House calling global warming a moral challenge. Nutter didn’t stay for the presentation, however, and wasn’t there to hear speaker after speaker call out the government for lack of action and, in some cases, inappropriate action.

Tom Dey, a water policy analyst who was seated in the audience, commented that change might come from the top of Barack Obama’s administration, but local officials need to be lobbied. “We have Senator [Dianne] Feinstein and Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger, who have written off the delta,” he said, bringing up their support for a $9 billion bond to build more dams.

All the speakers urged individual action as well, and Williams said the Interior Department was “committed to doing what we can to reduce our own carbon footprint.”

So far, that has been an analysis of carbon emissions throughout the national park system. GGNRA recently approved its climate action plan and is just beginning implementation of three major phases: emissions reduction, education, and adaptation, according to Laura Castellini, an environmental protection specialist. So far, that has meant an energy reduction partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Co., an integration of climate change into interpretations, and beginning a more focused look at how sea level rise will affect GGNRA lands.

There have been hurdles, too. Castellini said most of the park’s emissions actually come from visitors, so the organization is looking at ways to enhance shuttles to and through parks as well as encouraging alternative transportation to arrive there in the first place. When asked how GGNRA was changing its own driving patterns, she said the agency was having problems getting more fuel-efficient cars. “Right now we get all of our vehicles from the General Services Administration. They have been a little slow in getting us vehicles that get us closer to our goal.” Specifically, GSA only offers flex-fuel automobiles that run on ethanol, a plant-based fuel that many environmentalists are criticizing as unsustainable. Furthermore, Castellini said there are no ethanol stations in San Francisco.

Even given the concrete actions the park system is taking, there are still a lot of big unanswered questions, said Castellini. What if Glacier National Park no longer has any glaciers? “What does it mean if our protected areas no longer protect what they were established to?” she asked.

The Irreplaceable campaign, which includes a photo exhibit (closing Dec. 31 at the Main Branch of the SFPL), is traveling the country, ending in Washington, DC, as part of a push for Congress to recognize the gravity of the problem. Mark Rockwell, director of the program, closed the seminar by saying, “The only constant in nature is change. Change is what we’re going to have to become more comfortable with.”

That includes human change.

Originally published December 31, 2008 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian